African Studies: A Year in Review

Another school year has gone by, and with it, a new batch of trailblazing scholarship and exciting initiatives from the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As the academic calendar winds to a close, the African Studies Program reflects on another year furthering its mission to support research, teaching, and outreach on all aspects of land and life in Africa.

Celebrating pleasure and joy in Africa

This year, the African Studies Program embraced a new scholarly theme: pleasure and the pleasurable in Africa and the African Diaspora. Envisioned by Professor Teju Olaniyan and stemming from the idea that pleasure is both a valid and necessary lens through which to study the continent, this uncommon theme permeated African Studies events and programming since September. Throughout the year, Africa at Noon speakers spoke on topics of pleasure ranging from the aesthetic of cuteness in Cairo to the relationship between pleasure and evil in Rwandan genocide cartoons. Over 300 students and teachers attended Day in Africa, an annual event for Wisconsin high school students centered on on African popular culture. The year culminated in the African Studies Program’s annual conference, featuring 21 scholars from 15 different universities on the theme of pleasure.

Outreach Scholar Alibaba Sanchi teaches Hausa and talks about Nigeria with attendees at the Kennedy Elementary School’s International Celebration in December of 2016. (Photo by Dave Bresnahan)

Bringing Africa to Wisconsin classrooms

The African Studies Outreach Program reached nearly 3,000 students and teachers across the state of Wisconsin during the 2016-17 school year. Outreach Scholars paid visits to classrooms, multicultural nights, and even girl-scout troops to share their experience living or studying in Africa, and to break down the simplistic narratives so often constructed about the continent. A new feature of the outreach program, “Discovery Boxes” compiled material culture from different countries and cultures across Africa. These boxes were sent to classrooms across the state as a hands-on way to teach students about an often under-studied part of the world.

Continuing a tradition of excellence

African Studies faculty continued to make headlines for their impact on campus and across the world. Greg Mittman was named a 2017 Carnegie Fellow for his work in Liberia, and Aili Tripp was appointed a Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) named professorship. Two African Studies faculty received distinguished teaching awards, and Henry Drewal received the Hilldale Award for teaching, research, and service. Meanwhile, Amy Stambach was awarded a Smithsonian Institute Faculty Fellowship to help develop Africa-related curriculum. Scott Straus was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council for his research on genocide and mass atrocities, and Lisa Naughton used an Education Innovation Grant to film short videos of local Ugandan perspectives on environmental issues.

Saleem Badat addresses the audience at his lecture entitled “Black Students Matter” on April 27, 2017. (Photo by Kyra Fox)

Highlighting critical issues

Over the course of the year, the African Studies Program welcomed 47 speakers from 14 countries and 27 universities to the UW-Madison campus to share their research and engage in dialogue with the campus community. Colin Thomas-Jensen, Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, discussed U.S. policy toward Africa after the Obama administration. In a panel discussion, human rights advocates Jestina Mukoko and Jolly Okot shared stories of overcoming human rights and sent a message of hope to aspiring activists. In a lecture garnering attention across campus, Saleem Badat of the Mellon Foundation discussed the implications of the American Black Lives Matter movement and student-led protests in South Africa.

Inspiring the next generation of Africanist scholars

This spring, 37 students will graduate with an African Studies undergraduate certificate; many will go on to incorporate African Studies into their careers. To encourage students to go beyond the classroom in their study of Africa, the African Studies Program cultivated five new summer internships across the continent. Undergraduates could apply to help design the first children’s museum in South Africa with Play Africa, or support rural healthcare in Uganda with Health Access Connect with the support of African Studies Undergraduate Internship Awards. In addition, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships and Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Awards supported students studying African languages and conducting research on the continent.

Susan Gold and AIDS No More mentors gather outside the Children’s Garden Home and Secondary School where they reached over 60 students with youth-led HIV/AIDS discussion and programming. (Photo by Sicily Mburu)

Developing lasting connections with the continent

Last year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship established strong ties between the university community and Mandela Fellows across Africa. This impact was recognized recently when Kenyan Fellow Sicily Mburu received a Reciprocal Exchange Award to bring UW Nurse Practitioner Susan Gold to Kenya. There, they expanded on the connection they made at UW-Madison and worked together to enhance youth programming and organizational development. The African Studies Program is excited to again host the Mandela Washington Fellowship this summer, bringing 25 emerging African leaders to UW-Madison to study public management and cultivate more lifelong connections with the campus community.